CITRIS-seeded Digital Refuge Amplifies Refugee Stories

In honor of World Refugee Day, the CITRIS-seeded Digital Refuge project today launched an interactive website that maps the perilous ordeals of thousands of displaced people through their own personal stories.

UC Berkeley Public Affairs: To humanize the growing refugee crisis, researchers at UC Berkeley and UC Davis have launched an interactive website that maps the perilous ordeals of thousands of displaced people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia through their own personal stories and social media posts.

The Digital Refuge website, unveiled today on World Refugee Day, tracks in vivid words and imagery the odyssey of refugees who have stayed in camps in Greece en route to other parts of Europe.

Its launch is timely as debates rage over tough immigration policies that include family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border, and a travel ban on nationals from several majority Muslim countries, which the Supreme Court is expected to rule on next week.

“Heartless immigration policies, including separating families at the U.S. southern border, underscore the importance of understanding the living conditions and needs of migrants and refugees worldwide,” said project co-leader Katerina Linos, a UC Berkeley law professor and co-director of the Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law.

Analyzing social media data, ethnography and non-governmental organization databases, Linos and fellow faculty, staff and graduate students created the multimedia project to allow users to explore camp conditions and compare on-the-ground experiences to government reports. Their data is based on more than 6,000 interviews and 10,000 Facebook posts.

“Our hope is that Digital Refuge will help governments, aid organizations, policymakers, and the public to better understand and address refugees’ everyday issues and concerns,” Linos said.

For example, Linos notes, while refugees are in need of food, clothing and shelter, they also rely heavily on mobile technology such as smartphones, WhatsApp and Facebook to stay in touch with family and other support networks. That means they need access to Wi-Fi.

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